Monday, 6 December 2010

How to be an activist - letters

If you have not already read my post from yesterday then please do so now. This will make more sense if you do.
Today we tackle the issue of letter writing. Why? Because, as I pointed out yesterday, it is the most effective way of informing people who matter of what you think. Yes, even now the old fashioned snail-mail letter is the best means of communicating. You may get a face-to-face interview but you can be pretty sure it is going to come after you have written a letter or multiple letters.
There are rules for writing these letters. Let me explain why. Politicians, even unimportant local members who sit on the back bench, get thousands of letters every year. I once had to spend six weeks in the office of a politician and I saw evidence of this.
Like a letter to an agent or a publisher your letter has to stand out. If you want it to be noticed then there are rules you must follow.
Rule 1: Be polite.
Rule 2: Be concise.
Rule 3: Be clear.
Rule 4: Be sensible.
Rule 5: Be sensitive.
Rule 6: Be sincere.
Rule 7: Do not compromise.
Rule 8: State your goals.
Rule 9: Be dogmatic.
Rule 10: Be certain of your facts.
Rule 11: State your sources.
Rule 12: Keep a copy.

Yes, it is all pretty obvious - and most people ignore it.

There is also absolutely essential information you must include in your letter.

(1) Your given name and your surname
(2) Your full postal address
(3) Your telephone number
(4) The correct title and address of the recipient
(5) A subject line - say what the letter is about
(6) If there is a file number or previous correspondence say so
(7) Include the date of any previous correspondence
(8) Do NOT be tempted to add "URGENT" or "IMPORTANT"
(9) Ask for specific action
(10) State what action you intend to take - if this is appropriate
(11) Ask for a response by a certain date - but give the recipient reasonable time to respond
(12) If you are sending copies of the letter to anyone else then indicate this. (cc)
(13) Check your spelling and your grammar.
(14) Do not send a letter in your own handwriting - however legible it might be.
(15) SIGN your letter.

Now you need to do all of that in not more than one page - unless you are a very skilled campaigner. If there are facts that simply must be included then they can be added as one additional sheet in point form. That way the recipient will, if the secretary passes it on, get three things. One is your letter, two is the page with the facts and three is advice about what might be done and what action, if any, has already been taken.

If you write a letter to the Prime Minister it is most unlikely that the Prime Minister will actually read it. It is more likely to be a very junior member of staff. We will look at that tomorrow.


Anonymous said...

This is impossible. Why can't you write more than one page?

Anonymous said...

Letter writing is definitely an ART! When I was young, I had pen pals, the old-fashioned way. No computers in the world then! Life was slower. It was more relaxing, and fun, though I don't want to give up emails.

Your post is excellent. We still need to know how to write good letters, whether they're sent by email or USPS!!
Ann Best, Long Journey Home